“Everybody was duuuuumpster diviiiing,” he merrily crooned while picking out cans, bottles, metals and everything else possible from his shopping cart.
DeSanto has been Dumpster diving for three years. He used to go once a month. Now he goes a few times a week, making between $40 and $50 a haul, he said.
“It’s the economy, ever since no work,” he said “Everywhere you go, we’re helping out the earth. We’re doing our part. When we pick it up, we’re cleaning the street and recycling and making money.”
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It takes him about two hours to find $20 worth of recyclables he said. DeSanto goes up and down alleys looking into dumpsters of businesses, residences and apartments alike, taking care to leave the area as clean as he found it, he said.
He often finds other things in the trash including jewelry, money and bikes.
He jokes about starting a recycling dumpster diving association of El Centro to help with people’s perception of the habit.
“People think ‘OK, he’s trash, he’s bad,’” DeSanto said. “We could have a backbone to let the city know we’re here to help.”
Jaime Gutierrez has been Dumpster diving for about two years after DeSanto showed him how.
“I never done this in my life, but it puts a little change in your pocket,” Gutierrez said. “You’d be surprised. Another man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”
He is now showing others how.
“You see all walks of life (Dumpster diving,)” Gutierrez said. “Even middle class is doing it, because of gas prices. Everyone is trying to save a buck.”
Dumpster diving can provide a more legal way for some to make money.
Angel Pena started Dumpster diving when he got out of jail and “didn’t want to steal no more,” he said.
“I didn’t have a job so this makes me money,” he said. “It keeps my head busy. I feel like I have a job.”
He makes about $15 to $20 a day, often working during the night when fewer people are around. He rides a bike, sometimes precariously with six bags in one hand as the other tries to steer.
A little farther south on Fourth Street, Terry Bassham, his girlfriend and two friends have been Dumpster diving as a team for five years, usually from business Dumpsters.
They avoid the blue recycling cans because of fierce competition for them, they said, and nicknamed the trash trucks “El Toro” or “The Bull.”
“Some people in society don’t like us. We do this so we don’t have to run up and ask people for money,” Bassham said. “This is the only thing I can do.”
Dumpster divers have tools that include hooks to pull bags up. Bassham has two unwound wire coat hangers attached to each side of his shopping cart on hand.
He won’t jump into the dumpsters, because of the sharp objects sometimes inside garbage bags.
“Some people go jumping right in there,” he said. “Not me.”
The group wakes up around 4 a.m. to look for the first round of recyclables.
“It’s an all-day thing. It never stops,” Bassham said. “What society doesn’t understand is we work our asses off for what little bit we can get. We don’t bother nobody and don’t bug nobody.”
Staff Writer Chelcey Adami can be reached at 760-337-3452 or email@example.com